De De Pyaar De Review (SPOILERS): Love is Messy

Well, this was an interesting movie! Really did not go in the direction I thought it would. More time spent on stories I thought would be quick, and less time spent on stories I thought would be long. If you want to be as surprised as I was you can read the “no spoilers” review. If you want to know what to expect in advance, for real, not just what the trailer says, you can read this. And of course if you’ve already seen the movie and want to join the conversation, you can read this.

Whole Plot in Two Paragraphs:

Ajay Devgan is a mature calm single guy in London. Rakul Preet Singh is young and peppy and likes drinking and sex and fun times. They keep running in to each other at parties and events, but both of them are conflicted because they are very aware of the age difference. Rakul’s ex-boyfriend is bothering her, so Ajay offers to let her stay at his apartment. They laugh together, they goof around together, and finally Rakul initiates sex. Everything is wonderful, they are in love and love being together, but then Ajay’s friend/therapist Javad Jaffrey forces them to start thinking about the future, and Rakul points out that she is asking Ajay to relive all the things he has already done in life, she wants marriage and kids and he has already done that. They break up, but miss each other so much that they get back together, for real and forever. Ajay says the next step is to go back to India and introduce her to his ex-wife, his kids, and his parents. They arrive in India in the beautiful resort town where his family owns vacation cottages only for Ajay’s grown daughter to try to chase them away and everyone to be confused and upset until his wife shows up, Tabu. INTERVAL

Ajay’s daughter Inayat Sood invited her boyfriend’s family to come meet her family, coincidentally the same day Ajay appears. The problem being, she told her boyfriend that her father was dead. So Ajay pretends to be Tabu’s brother instead of ex-husband, and lies that Rakul is his secretary. Jimmy Shergill is dancing around too, a guest in one of their cottages with a crush on Tabu. And then it still goes wrong when Inayat explains that she and her boyfriend don’t want to get married, they are planning to live together before getting married and want their parents’ blessings. Ajay speaks up in support of Inayat and makes it worse, and then Tabu smooths things over by suggesting an engagement, then the kids can live together and get married later. Ajay’s son gets a crush on Rakul, and Tabu can’t help messing with her a little bit (perfectly aware that she isn’t just a secretary). But the daughter finds out the truth and blows up, revealing everything to her boyfriend and his father. The father is shocked at how they have all been lying to him and calls off the engagement. Everyone blames Ajay, and Tabu finally speaks up, pointing out that this is unfair to everyone, Ajay has to be the “bad” person all the time which forces her to be “good” even when she doesn’t want to be. Ajay goes to talk to her in her room afterwards, and comforts her when she admits she just wants to be free for a little while, and has sex with her. The next day, he tells Rakul, and tells her that it was meaningless, but she doesn’t believe it. Rakul leaves, Ajay doesn’t go after her because his family needs him more. But once he helps his daughter’s engagement get back on track and everything is happy and good with them, Tabu goes to London and finds Rakul and asks her to come, explains that she and Ajay will always love each other but he loves Rakul more. Rakul shows up for the engagement, and Ajay tells her that he is ready to do it all over again with her, get married and have kids and everything. Tabu is now being courted both by Jimmy Shergill and the boyfriend’s father, everyone is happy, and Rakul tells Ajay that now they have to go meet her family. HAPPY ENDING

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I first sat up and took notice in this movie when Rakul was introduced as a stripper. Only, not really. That is, she isn’t really a stripper and that’s not really what her introduction is. She knocks on the door of a bachelor party, dressed sexy, and then comes in and turns down the lights. But it’s too dark, so she flips them on again, and then off, and finally smiles delighted when she figures out how to get them just right. It’s a little quick moment, but it puts us in her head, makes her a person who is pretending to act sexy, not just a sexy object. Her whole “stripper” act is like that, she puts on a sexy face and posture but then will glance at the camera and it will drop away for a moment and we can see her as a real person thinking “isn’t this fun? I’m pretending to be a stripper!”

That’s what appeals to Ajay too, the “real person”. It would be easy to make this a romance about her being young and sexy, and certainly that is part of it, but this film makes it clear that Ajay is attracted to her, the person, not just the body. He notices her little dropping of the stripper act moments, and he notices her again when the fiancee shows up and reveals that Rakul is her friend and it was all a set up, and Rakul speaks up and tries to save the engagement. Ajay helps her with his own arguments, and they have a similar way of looking at the world, both think love is real and this marriage should be saved, but also both acknowledge that strippers and sex and so on are things that happen and shouldn’t be considered a big deal.

That’s how all their early interactions are. It’s not about Rakul being sexy and Ajay pursuing her, it is about both of them kind of dancing around each other, getting to know each other slowly, and taking time in deciding if they should act on their feelings or try to kill them. It’s an interesting romance, and a different romance, and they make me believe in it. They are both confident in who they are, Ajay because of hardwon wisdom through mistakes, Rakul because of the confidence of youth. We can see it when Rakul asks Ajay to help her close up at her bar, he casually serves drinks and washes dishes, he doesn’t throw a fit about doing manual labor, and he knows just how to interact with the customers. And we can see it when Ajay takes Rakul to his club, The Travelers Club, and she casually indicates that she is comfortable there but not impressed with it. By the time they have sex, it means something. And we know they are in love not because of sex, but have sex because they are in love.

Their break-up makes total sense too. It’s not contrived or over some silly age related reason, it cuts right to the heart of their issues. Rakul is just starting out, she wants a full life ahead of her. Ajay already has a full life behind him. Rakul will either have to miss out on the next 20 years in order to catch up and live like him, or he will have to live the past 20 years over again with her. One of them has to sacrifice, and they love the other too much to ask it of the other, and are practical enough not to leap to offering it themselves. Rakul is the one who offers the sacrifice, at least says she is willing, if it means they can be together again.

This isn’t a relationship that is following the standard expected beats of a film, it’s not fun and shallow and sex right from the start, and it’s also not restrained and cautious and marriage minded. It’s two characters, and the writer who is writing for them, figuring it out as they go along. There is no clear road map forward, once they admit that they are in love and want to be together as long as they can. Is marriage next? Children? Just continuing as they are? Ajay suggests the next step is simply to introduce her to his family and share the joy he has found in their love. It makes sense for these characters, in this movie. It doesn’t even feel odd until they are in front of his family trying to navigate the situation.

Ajay lies that Rakul is his secretary and everyone but his naive son immediately assumes they are lovers. But the way they treat Rakul and the relationship, they are picturing it as a shallow fun relationship. That’s how most films and most people would assume it is, Rakul is a pretty young thing and Ajay is so shallow and needy that he even brings her with him on vacations. But that would be a boring movie, a movie we have seen before, and a movie that doesn’t fit with the real people the two of them are. That’s the movie that the trailers told us this would be, Rakul is a sexy young thing and Tabu is the ex-wife who threatens her. But that is only a very small section of the film. And even there, it only happens that way because Ajay is trying to please his daughter, to fix his relationship with her. Even in the middle of it all, Ajay and Rakul still have moments of deep love between them, for instance after Rakul is sent away from the family discussion, and Ajay stands up for his daughter and her decision to live with her boyfriend before marriage, Ajay is then sent out as well, reminded that it isn’t his “place’ to make such an argument because he isn’t a true father to his daughter. It’s difficult and complicated, and Rakul finds him later and respects his feelings. She isn’t the shallow “funny” young girlfriend, she is understanding and sincere and tries to cheer him up.

Really, Rakul comes off very well in this whole section. It’s the kind of situation where, usually, the girlfriend would be complaining and adding on complications. But instead, she is a normal human person. Any concern about her relationship with her boyfriend drops behind her concern about his relationship with his children which is in a much more tenious state. She isn’t a saint, she still complains to him in private, but she does not interfere in public or ignore his distress in favor of her own.

Everyone comes off well, really, with understandable conflicts. Ajay early on tells Rakul that he knows he is a bad father for having left his wife and children, but he thinks he would be a worse father had he stayed. He mentions he hasn’t seen them in a couple of years, but then they are 21 and 24 now. His son is still loving and comfortable with him, and the amount of anger his daughter holds towards him indicates a corresponding amount of love that used to be there. So yes, Ajay has not been present in his children’s lives for the past few years. But it appears that he was an involved father before the separation, and even continued to be involved and see them regularly afterwards. Little things like recognizing his daughter’s nightclothes when Rakul wears them, or casually teasing his son, tells us (the audience) that he has drifted away from them in recent years, but he was hardly an absent father their entire lives.

On the other hand, his difficult daughter has her own justifications. She is old enough to miss the day to day presence of her father, and be embarrassed by his absence. And she is old enough to have chosen sides and decided her mother is perfect and her father evil. And we do not need the film to explain to us that her reason for insisting on living together before marriage is because the destruction of her parents’ marriage made her cautious and fearful in love. Nor do we need Ajay to explain that the reason he is supporting her is because he understands his own part in it all. Again, this is a woman that in another movie would be a silly complication, illogical and a contrivance of the plot, but instead she gets her moment to speak out her own reasoning and anger at all the lies around her.

And then there is Tabu. She is hard to read for most of the film. She seems to enjoy being hard to read, torturing Rakul and Ajay by keeping them guessing as to how much she suspects of their relationship, and keeping her children and the rest of the family in awe of her perfect poise and wise silences. Until it goes to far, and she must acknowledge her own hidden responsibility for what is happening around her, and how hard it is to be the “good” wife. Rakul tells the truth of her parents’ relationship and her anger at all the lies and her engagement is broken. She blames Ajay for it, wishes he had stayed away and never come back, and everyone else feels the same way. And that is when Tabu tells them to stop, to stop making it all about Ajay, to realize that they are all forcing Ajay to be the bad guy and Tabu to be the good one and that’s not fair to anyone. That they didn’t know how to handle a divorce, and so they had to choose sides and everyone decided Tabu had to be good and selfless and stay home, and Ajay had to be terrible and set away, and that’s just not the whole story.

It’s a great long monologue with Tabu facing the camera, and it shifts everything we see before and after. Ajay accepted his “bad guy” status himself, told Rakul he was a bad father. But, he wasn’t. The separation itself was embarrassing for his daughter, and his family never pushed for him to come home and see them because he was an embarrassment. And so he accepted that his children didn’t want or need him and his visits became less and less frequent. But he is here now and he is giving up everything in order to try to make his daughter happy. And Tabu, she has at least one suitor running after her (Jimmy Shergill) but is calmly ignoring him. She is smoothing over problems and taking care of her children and her in-laws and their business. She is rewarded by the honor and respect and loyalty everyone gives her, but she doesn’t get to be a person any more, not a real person with her own needs.

This is a big problem in Indian society. In this film, it is about the specific situation of a divorced couple. But it is the same for any couple, one has to be the “good” one and one the “bad”. That is how our Indian narratives work. The bad son and the good son, the good husband and the saintly wife, the saintly husband and the bad wife, and on and on and on. And it isn’t fair to either of them, the “good” or the “bad”, to turn them into nothing like that. This speech also questions the very premise of the film, that Tabu will of course still love Ajay and want him back. She doesn’t, of course. The separation was a mutual decision, she hasn’t been pining away from him any more than he has been pining away for her. And, on the other hand, he has been pining for his children and his family just as much as a woman would, it’s not fair that he has been kept away by their expectations.

And then Ajay and Tabu have sex. Not because they are in love, not because they are married, but because Tabu is being foolish and desirous and wants to be foolish and desirous and not a saint at all, and Ajay is willing to indulge her. The movie is building to Tabu “seducing” Ajay, or Ajay declaring his renewed love for her. But instead it is Tabu who honestly asks Ajay for sex and he gives it to her. It’s radical, sex between two mature people as a complicated exchange of love and needs, not “just sex” but also not true love.

What I find even more radical is what happens next. Rakul leaves Ajay, and he doesn’t follow her. Not because he doesn’t love her, but because he has family responsibilities. It’s the “sacrificing” role that a woman would normally take in a movie, but that’s what this movie is saying, that’s what it is about, Tabu has been sacrificing for years while Ajay is cut off and away from the love of his family. Now Ajay is sacrificing, and gaining love in return, even if it means his romantic love is cut off from him. This is NOT the usual thing a hero does. At least, not in this way. He may do the big dramatic gesture, but he won’t do the tedious “pretending to be happy so everyone else can feel happy and hanging around day by day by day” kind of thing. And that’s what Ajay does here, he stays around and waits for his daughter to want his help, and convinces her boyfriend’s father to come around, and helps with the engagement prep, and is smiling and happy the whole time instead of putting his pain on them. It’s very girly of him, in the best possible way.

The film never really walks that back, just as it never really walks back the fact that Tabu wanted sex with no strings and that was okay too. This is life, this is reality, and there is no reason to hide that. Tabu and Ajay couldn’t stay married but they still love each other, she is still unhappy when she sees him with another woman, he is still unable to say “no” when she needs intimacy. Ajay went to London but that doesn’t make him an irredeemably bad father, it is just a different kind of father. Rakul is a lot younger than Ajay, and that’s a problem because she wants marriage and kids and he may not even life until their children are adults. And that doesn’t go away, they just make a choice to accept this reality.

I guess that is why this movie kind of fails as a farce? A farce is all about taking socially accepted rules and gently poking fun at them by breaking-but-not-really-breaking-them. That’s what makes it funny, when the bellboy thinks a couple is having an affair but they are secretly married, But this movie isn’t interested in gently poking at social rules, it wants to rip off the mask and reveal them as the empty constructs they are, to get at the heart of the situation. If Rakul was really Ajay’s secretary but his family thought she was his lover, and gently explored the idea of cross-generational love without it being real, that is a farce. Rakul and Ajay being not just lovers but actually in love, that’s not funny at all. It’s special, it’s nice, it just isn’t very funny.

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2 thoughts on “De De Pyaar De Review (SPOILERS): Love is Messy

  1. I did end up seeing this movie this weekend and was glad I did. It was also only my second Indian film in theaters and the first one with song and dance numbers (the first one I saw in theaters was Badla) so that was super fun!

    My friend wasn’t able to come with me for this movie so I ended up seeing it by myself, which was fun in it’s own way. But this means that we rescheduled for a movie this weekend so I get to see an Indian film in theater two weekends in a row!

    I agree this movie did not go in the way I expected at all. Or rather, it didn’t go in the direction it very easily could have and I really appreciated that.

    I also loved that all of the female characters were very much strong within themselves and moving the plot forward rather than allowing themselves to be acted upon. You talked about this with Rakul, Inayat, and Tabul. Even the more minor character of Ajay’s mother held her own, not falling into lock-step with her husband’s views, and also showing that traditional devotion to her son while still fully acknowledging that he was far from perfect without absolving him of that.

    I did think it was a little strange how easily Ajay’s son just accepted the fact that his father was dating the woman he had a crush on, but also don’t know if it would have done the film any favors by spending too much time on that issue. But even just a slightly pained look from his son on seeing them together would have been a bit more believeable.

    Like

    • Yeah, the son did kind of get the short end of the stick in terms of characturization. No issues with his father apparently, used for a running joke more than anything, and then even that joke gets left behind. But that was another nice little gender inversion, wasn’t it? So often it is the daughter or sister character who gets left behind and forgotten by the script, I will let it be the son this once who just doesn’t have as many issues. It was satisfying seeing his daughter be so bratty, wasn’t it? Instead of the usual forgiving and understanding and “easy” daughter compared to the challenging son.

      Next weekend, I vote you see Student of the Year 2!!! If it is still playing. India’s Most Wanted is going to be the new release, but it won’t really have song and dance numbers, or romance (boring!) while Student of the Year 2 is super fun.

      On Mon, May 20, 2019 at 8:03 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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